Dance fans from across the globe congregated at TomorrowWorld, which kicked off its second edition Friday (Sept. 26) with a stacked artist lineup on seven compelling stages. Billboard takes you down to Georgia to recap all the action and best behind-the-scenes moments from Day 1 in the Chattahoochee Hills.
10:48 a.m.: My plane lands in Atlanta to the shrill welcome of Armin van Buuren’s “This is What it Feels Like” blaring from my Brazilian seatmate’s iPhone. Wearing wrap-around sunglasses and leading a series of Portuguese cheers, his mind is already at the main stage.
5:20 p.m.: Mat Zo drops Darude’s “Sandstorm” on the Main Stage. “He did not just do that!” squeals a girl in a questionable feathered headdress. He sure did. The upbeat trance classic precedes a stomping festival drop punctuated by screeching electro synths and brief-but-booming dubstep interludes.
5:36 p.m.: Strangers heading in opposite directions exchange high fives on the long bridges connecting stages over water. While the overall warm spirit of camaraderie is similar, TomorrowWorld’s crowd differs from its European counterpart in a number of ways. Far more fraternity flags and creative costumes.
5:42 p.m.: France’s Tchami skillfully cuts between funky house fare and resounding trap beats on the Mythical Frames Stage. As he delves into a rework of Chamillionare’s “I Got Hoes,” a sea of flags and inflatable objects bounce along with the bass.
6:57 p.m.: “How are you guys doing tonight?” a beaming Kygo queries his swelling Main Stage crowd. “It feels so good to be here today!” He drops his popular “Sexual Healing” remix while a girl hoists a sign with its lyrics in time with the tropical beat. Meanwhile, his manager Myles Shear prowls the side stage like an NFL coach barking orders into an olive green headset he somehow obtained. “Confetti, I want confetti on the drop!” he yells. The stage crew complies as a shimmering yellow sea subsumes the sky.
7:15 p.m.: Clad in eye-popping neon outfits, the NERVO girls climb into the Main Stage booth and begin cheerfully parodying Myles, who’s still pacing about madly coordinating the stage production. “Streamers, I said streamers!” Miriam growls into an imaginary headset. As fireworks signal his set’s finale, Kygo shares a glass of champagne with his father, who flew in from Norway to see his son’s first main stage turn. “My face hurts from smiling so hard,” he says.
8:49 p.m.: “Is there anyone here from Brazil?” Nicky Romero asks his fervent Main Stage audience. “Belgium? Come on this is TomorrowWorld, show me your flags! I see flags from everywhere tonight. Germany! America! Denmark!” As the Dutch star continues naming countries, different pockets of the crowd erupt in cheers.
9:12 p.m.: “The world can hear you right now!” crows Holland’s WildStylez before pummeling the Q Dance Stage’s modest-yet-manic crowd with his genre’s signature throbbing kick drum. A wild-eyed girl wearing a “Hardstyle changed my life” T-shirt flails about in one of the stage’s surrounding water pools. It’s slightly strange yet comforting to see the niche genre’s rise represented at a U.S. festival in a manner unthinkable only a few years prior.
9:29 p.m.: English veteran Jody Wisternoff takes the audience at his intimate Anjunadeep stage on an entrancing journey through progressive house’s deep end. Upbeat percussion melds seamlessly with rumbling analog bass hits and trippy synth chords. Showing an ear for the present, he draws cheers as he layers the chorus of Zhu’s “Faded” over throwback progressive fare. Attendees down vodka shots and lift an enormous green squid flag overhead.
11:24 p.m.: Zedd is in the zone. The German artist enthralls the Main Stage with a dynamic assortment of custom mash-ups, wildly jumping up and down while songs like “Clarity,” “Spectrum” and his remix of Empire of the Sun’s “Alive” similarly move the masses. He’s active on the microphone; happily engaging a crowd bristling with flags and carried decorations, including a neon Chinese dragon head that bobs in the background.
11:29 p.m.: Tiësto appears backstage in red pants and a steel-shouldered jacket. As fireworks boom above, he feigns being caught in an air raid by ducking and pointing to the laughter of all in attendance. As Zedd exits the booth, Tiësto asks how his set went. “It’s fucking perfect,” the German artist replies. “Yeah playing whatever you want man, it’s the best,” Tiësto says with a broad grin.
11:35 p.m.: “I like this!” Zedd exclaims, pointing to the German flags adorning my jacket. After exchanging pleasantries in his native tongue, the conversation turns to his second album. While the LP is close to completion, it’s clear that the same passion and perfectionism that made his debut so memorable can also create pressure. “I think I set a bar for myself with ‘Clarity,’” he explains. “I don’t want to ever release anything that I’m not just as happy with.”
11:50 p.m.: Green lasers dissect the sky while Zedd tells me about his New Years resolution. He’s no longer responding to haters who pepper his social media feeds with indiscriminate vitriol, and he’s noticed a marked drop-off in the negative comments. “Unfortunately, people treat music like clothing,” he says. ”You’re wearing a shirt and it’s cool, but if everyone’s wearing that shirt, then you don’t want it anymore.”
12:00 p.m.: Tiësto transitions into “Red Lights” and cuts the sound during the chorus. A packed Main Stage crowd is all too happy to fill in the gaps, brandishing neon blue wands and dancing wildly upon the track’s melodic drop.
12:55 p.m.: Bassnectar closes out the Mythical Frames Stage with heavily layered melodies over booming broken beats. “Thank you all so much,” he declares as he departs. “I hope you make a lot of friends and have an amazing weekend.”